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U.S. Life Expectancy Gap Widens

Gap between women and men grows to nearly 6 years

November 14, 2023

U.S. life expectancy declined again during 2021, and the longevity gap between women and men continues to widen.

Public health researchers released a report this month about life expectancy rates for 2021. The report indicated women are now projected to live nearly six years longer than men on average.

“While rates of death from drug overdose and homicide have climbed for both men and women, it is clear that men constitute an increasingly disproportionate share of these deaths,” study author Brandon Yan, a UCSF internal medicine resident physician and research collaborator at Harvard Chan School, said in a statement.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • By the numbers:  Overall life expectancy declined 0.6 years to 76.4 years, with men born this year expected to live 73.5 years and women expected to live 79.3 years.
    • The gap in life expectancy between men and women has grown from 4.8 years during 2010 to 5.8 years during 2021.
  • The lifespan gap:  U.S. women have consistently outlived men, which historically has been “attributable to lower cardiovascular and lung cancer death rates related largely to differences in smoking behavior,” the CDC report notes. Other factors such as unintentional injuries and suicide and homicide rates may also contribute to the life expectancy gap.
  • Mortality markers:  During 2021, COVID-19 was responsible for nearly 60 percent of the increase in overall mortality. Other contributing factors were unintentional injuries (19.7%), chronic liver disease and cirrhosis (3.1%), suicide (2%), and homicide (1.7%).
    • These factors were partially offset by declining mortality for the flu and pneumonia, chronic lower respiratory disease, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease.
  • By population:  American Indian and Alaska Natives had the largest decline in life expectancy (1.5 years), primarily driven by unintentional injuries and COVID-19, among other causes.
    • The White population had the second-greatest decline (0.7 years), which was tied to COVID-19, unintentional injuries, and heart disease.
    • The Asian population had the longest life expectancy (83.5), while American Indian and Alaska Natives had the shortest (65.6).
  • Quotable:  “We need to track these trends closely as the pandemic recedes,” senior author Howard Koh, professor of the practice of public health leadership at Harvard Chan School, said in a statement. “And we must make significant investments in prevention and care to ensure that this widening disparity, among many others, do not become entrenched.”

The available data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the full study are available online.